I hate celebrity playlists. Okay, hate is a very strong word. But I don’t like them because I think they’re disingenuous. You look at one of those rundowns of the 10 or 15 songs picked by whoever and you know that you’re not actually seeing a slice of that celeb’s personality…you’re seeing the slice they want you to see.
You can absolutely tell a lot about a person by the kind of music they listen to. Music, much like movies, can also function as a personality rorschach. But if you’re really trying to get a handle on someone, you need to look at their wall of CDs. (And if they don’t have a wall, that tells you something right there.) You can’t hide from your own collection. This is the stuff you held on to. And with each and every disc there’s a reason why.
But, since we live in the iPod age, there’s an easier way: the shuffle. The shuffle is merciless. The shuffle is aware. The shuffle will not let you hide. And this is how we can know a person.
So, here’s my Shuffle-ography. Ten songs, chosen at random. And what each title brings to mind.
“Mosquito Song,” Songs for the Deaf, Queens of the Stone Age
I bought this album simply because it was on EW’s top 10 list one year. And because Dave Grohl played the drums on the whole album. I dig Dave Grohl. Imagine how tough it must be to be the drummer in the Foo Fighters, Dave Grohl’s band, knowing full well that if the boss doesn’t like what you’re playing, he could step right in and do it better. The fact that, by all accounts, Grohl’s not a dick about it is impressive. Somehow, this dude managed to extricate himself from forever being a member of Nirvana. He didn’t have to do that; he could’ve coasted for the rest of his life on that. Like Krist Novoselic. But he wanted something else, something more, and I can respect that.
“Quills,” Phrenology, The Roots
When I was in high school, I was into rap in a big way. I was a 15 year old black kid on Long Island; I was supposed to be into rap. Luckily for me, those were the halcyon days of hip-hop: Public Enemy, De La Soul, Eric B. & Rakim, Queen Latifah, A Tribe Called Quest. But as gangsta rap moved in, I moved on. That was a music that didn’t quite speak to me. (I was from Long Island, remember?) I discovered Hendrix, Zeppelin, Clapton, Parliament Funkadelic, James Brown, Beethoven, Oscar Brown Jr., Dave Brubeck, John Coltrane. But I swung back around in my late 20s and found musicians on the rap scene. People like Jurassic 5, Mos Def, the Beastie Boys, and, yes, The Roots.
“Come Away with Me,” Come Away With Me, Norah Jones
When my daughter was born, she slept like all babies do: in short bursts, punctuated by long stretches of crying. My wife and I would take shifts, since no one should be expected do fly solo on that front, not unless you have to. A couple of weeks in, I couldn’t listen to any of the dozen lullaby CDs we got any more. The last thing you want to hear at 4:00 am is “Hush Little Baby” for the 152nd time. So I brought in a couple of my CDs: Nat King Cole, Stevie Wonder, Antonio Carlos Jobim, and Norah Jones. I spent countless hours holding my daughter and dancing her to sleep to "Come Away with Me." I still mist up a little when I hear it.
“Get Me to the Church,” Sinatra at the Sands, Frank Sinatra
This song actually depresses me a little. Not because of some time-related nuptual fiasco—one of which I actually had at my wedding—but because of how young Quincy Jones was when this was recorded. He was 33 years old, conducting Count Basie’s orchestra and arranging Frank Sinatra’s songs. He was still a young man, and he was operating at the peak of his talents, and at the top of his field. Not that 33 was a bad year for me, but I wasn’t on a movie set, directing Tom Hanks and Kate Winslet in a film written by Paddy Fucking Chayefsky either.
“You Really Got Me,” Van Halen, Van Halen
My friend Nick and I used to take these road trips. I must’ve been in my senior year in high school, maybe freshman year of college. Anyway, these trips would consist of us starting at his family’s house in upstate New York, picking a direction and driving. Sometimes we could camp out (we were both Boy Scouts at one time, at varying levels of accomplishment), a couple of times we would just pull over and crash in his car, a maroon 1983 Pontiac Grand Prix. Now, this was before his Guido the Killer Pimp phase, in which Nick listened to nothing but shitty club music and Billy Joel—and way before his current fixation on shitty country music—so we were listening to classic rock. That’s where I first heard a lot of things (the one most vivid in my head is “Veteran of the Psychic Wars,” by Blue Oyster Cult, which is the closest thing to comic book radio theater I’ve ever heard), as well as “Eruption,” which floored me. Of course, it was followed by "You Really Got Me." Which is, in and of itself, not a bad song either.
“You Give Love a Bad Name,” Cross Road, Bon Jovi
Ever buy a CD for one song, and then kind of get stuck listening to the rest of it? I bought this Bon Jovi greatest hits album for “Wanted Dead or Alive,” which is, legitimately, one of the greatest arena rock songs ever written. (Also, my favorite karaoke song…if for nothing else than the Richie Sambora part.) But I get bad MTV flashbacks whenever I hear this. I should really relegate this to the “Runaway” bin so it never shuffles up on me again.
"Cellphone’s Dead," The Information, Beck
I’m just digging into this album, so I don’t really have all that much perspective on it. But I like Beck, especially his willingness to take chances. Plus, that marionette performace on SNL was awesome.
"Jewel of the Summertime," Revelations, Audioslave
I always wanted Chris Cornell’s voice. His, or Sting’s. Preferably a combination of the two, to both scare the shit out of the ladies, and then woo them back. When I was in a shitty post-high school rock band, I always wanted to belt in Cornell’s crazy-ass wail, but could never pull it off. And my bandmates told me as much, continually. I still try in the car, though. And tear my throat out every damned time.
"Pictures of Success," Take Offs and Landings, Rilo Kiley
Can’t help you much here. Just got it. Haven’t listened to the whole thing yet. But, hey, it must say something that I got it in the first place, right? I just don’t know what.
"Across 110th Street," Jackie Brown Soundtrack, Bobby Womack
I’ve only ever bought two copies of the same CD because the first one was worn out once, and that was the Pulp Fiction soundtrack. Man alive, I played that one into the ground. There’s just something about the way Quentin Tarantino assembles his soundtracks that speaks to me. He just knows the perfect pop song for the perfect moment, much in the way that Scorsese does (even if he dips into the “Gimme Shelter” well a little too often). And so, the first time we meet Pam Grier’s Jackie Brown, standing on an airport moving sidewalk, being drawn inexorably to her fate, this is the song we hear. All about the hustle, and the price. (I’m also a big fan of "Strawberry Letter 23" from the Jackie Brown album, and was thrilled that I already had the song when I heard it on that Kellogg’s commercial for Special K cereal.)
So, that’s my shuffle-ography. A life is a collection of snapshots, all of a specific moment in time. These are just 10 of mine.
What does your shuffle-ography look like?